Let's Not Go Overboard

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Some journalists, bloggers, and even news organizations are beating their chests about reporters and editors mingling with politicians at a few fancy dinners in Washington.

Common sense dictates some more thought here of right and wrong. Journalists should not be socially chummy or even close to members of Congress or the White House staff. But let's not get silly or grandstand about it.

Reporters and editors are not elitists, but they are working stiffs for the most part. It is ludicrous to claim, as one tabloid columnist maintained, that reporters should not attend state dinners at the White House.

At the posh affair for Queen Elizabeth II, David Gregory of NBC News was a guest. Gregory stands out as one White House reporter who has been especially tough on the Bush administration. Some Republicans despise him.

Steve Holland of Reuters news agency was another invitee at the Queen's dinner. Holland is a tireless wire service reporter who has earned a reputation as a straight arrow.

In other words, Gregory and Holland are hardly going in the tank for Bush because of this invitation.

Other banquets are more controversial. The White House Correspondents Association dinner has turned into a celebrity bash. Years ago, Fawn Hall, who figured in the Oliver North and Iran-contra scandal, was invited by the Baltimore Sun and it started a contest. Some news organizations got into competition for inviting stars from Hollywood or professional sports.

For some of us, that dinner has gotten out of hand.

The annual Gridiron Club white-tie dinner in the spring is more limited in scope. The fun-poking at politicians of both parties by members is mixed with speeches by a lone Democrat and Republican plus the usual closing remarks by the president.

The speeches rarely burn anyone and the presidents areusually both funny and self-deprecating.

There are other bashes such as the Radio-TV correspondents dinner and the White House photographers dinner. Karl Rove danced on the stage at the radio-TV affair, raising some eyebrows.

The New York Times has recently called an end to allowing its staffers to attend these dinners. That is their call but it seems a little overblown.

Reporters have been dealing with politicians at close range for generations, including those with the Times. Most journalists know where to draw the line and when that line can't be crossed.

So much has been said about the lack of civility in the nation's capital. Columns have been written calling for members of both parties to recognize their differences in a more constructive way.

What is really wrong then with a reporter who has been routinely kicking the stuffing out of politicians, sitting near them one or two nights a year?

The critics should take a deep breath.

(The writer is a retired White House and political correspondent. He is an inactive member of the Gridiron Club who rarely goes to the annual dinner and he stopped going to the correspondents dinner 15 years ago. Yes, he did attend two state dinners while covering the White House in the Ford, Carter, and George H. W. Bush days.)